Why is Iberia denying my request for EU 261 compensation?

When Iberia cancels Bego Lopez’s flight shortly before departure, it refuses to compensate her in accordance with European Union law. Can our advocates successfully persuade Iberia to issue Lopez the reimbursement it owes her?

Question: My husband and I booked tickets on Iberia Airlines flights from Miami to Sevilla, Spain, via London Heathrow and Madrid. But less than 12 hours before our London-to-Madrid leg was scheduled to depart from Heathrow Airport, Iberia canceled the flight, which was coming in from Madrid. The passengers were told that the cancellation was because of problems with the aircraft.

We were rerouted on a British Airways flight to Barcelona, which was also changed, and arrived in Sevilla six hours later than originally scheduled. According to EU 261, we are each due 600 euros ($709) from Iberia as compensation for the delays.

The day after we returned home, I filed a claim for EU 261 compensation with Iberia. But we haven’t heard from Iberia or received any compensation. I’ve called Iberia several times to follow up on our claim, only to be transferred to different agents. They refuse to connect me to a supervisor.

Can you help us get the compensation Iberia owes us? — Bego Lopez, Deland, Fla.

Answer: ¡Ay, caramba!

When Iberia canceled your flight to Madrid, it owed you and the other passengers, at the very least, a candid explanation for the cancellation and rebooking on its next available flight to Madrid.

You are correct that EU 261 entitles flight passengers to 600 euros for a delay or cancellation of a flight over 3,500 kilometers.

But there are a couple of catches:

Financial compensation is also paid to passengers of a flight that is canceled and has not been informed at least two weeks prior to travel. Travelers who are notified within the two weeks are not entitled to compensation if the airline can offer a rerouting to the destination which is similar to the canceled flight.

If the flight is canceled because of extraordinary circumstances, such as security threats, the airline may not pay compensation.

You were notified of the cancellation within the two weeks and Iberia was able to rebook you on its sister airline British Airways (both airlines are owned by International Airlines Group).

Iberia’s conditions of carriage provide that

Notice to passengers in the event of cancellation
As established in the European Parliament and Council Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 of 11th February, compensation is fixed in the event of flight cancellation unless the latter is due to extraordinary circumstances. The carrier is furthermore liable for the provision of immediate aid and assistance to affected passengers.

On the one hand, Iberia could use this provision of EU 261 to deny you compensation, but on the other, you should have received the 1,200 euros.

After waiting in vain for Iberia’s customer service agents to respond to your claim for compensation, you might have escalated your complaint using our executive contacts for Iberia. Instead, you contacted our advocates for assistance in getting your claim processed.

We reached out to Iberia, which initially claimed that there were “extraordinary circumstances” leading to your flight’s cancellation, and therefore Iberia was not required to compensate the passengers.

Unfortunately, many airlines subject to EU 261 have been using this provision to deny compensation under questionable circumstances because EU 261 is unspecific as to what circumstances are considered “extraordinary.” And Iberia did not clarify the nature of the “extraordinary circumstances” to you or to our advocates.

We advised you to file a complaint against Iberia with the Agencia Estatal de Seguridad Aérea (National Aviation Safety Agency) in Spain. While the Authority would not compel Iberia to issue you the compensation, it could determine whether you were entitled to the compensation and sanction Iberia for wrongfully denying it to you. But before you did that, we heard from Iberia that it will issue you the 1,200 euros it owes you and your husband.

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